The first time I heard the word cancer, I was in the fifth grade. We were all forbidden to ever breathe the word in front of him, lest our grandfather give up. Long before hospice, his world became a hospital bed in my grandparents’ farmhouse living room. At thirteen, my cousin and I would spend Saturday nights having popcorn parties and sleeping on the lumpy sofa bed, taking our turn nursing the salty old man so our grandmother could get a night’s sleep. He was bed-ridden for five years before his life was over.
Three years after his death, as a senior in high school, I was eagerly awaiting my first trip to Europe when my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer, a secret she kept from us until a week before her surgery. Before I ascended the Zugspitze or had my first beer in the Hofbrauhaus, I made a memorable trip to her hospital room, where she insisted I fulfill my childhood dream, in spite of her convalescence. Twenty five years and nine grandchildren later, we watched her expire in bits and pieces from non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
With such vivid memories of the possible devastation of this disease, I ask myself over and over why I see my particular bout with cancer as just another one of life’s remarkable and fascinating journeys. A turn in the road. An unescapable pot hole, even. But an adventure instead of a bell toll, nonetheless.
Maybe it’s some curious inner light. An indomitable spirit. Or maybe it’s the incredible love that I experienced with amazing folks at my art sale last week and my “inner circle” who bid me such a memorable Bon Voyage last night. But I have to think that part of it is that same artistic vision which sees something beautiful on a blank canvas and is bold enough to make the first brush stroke. Facing trials with creative energy is just the only way I know how to live. Discovering cancer in my body has led me to seek a cure I can live with. That cure leads me to a tiny town near my teenage Bavarian stomping ground. Even more astounding, without meeting cancer in my own body, I wouldn’t have the same urgent passion and conviction to paint my corner of the world, wherever it may be.